As we enter race week for the real life Indy 500, iRacing has wrapped up its virtual rendition of the staple event. If you want the full event as it happened check out my video below. Otherwise continue on with the synopsis...
This year’s running of the 500 featured the new (to me) Indy car chassis. I was not able to compete in last year’s event, so this was my first race with the new Indycar. It is quite a different experience to the DW12, much more involved in terms of adjustments both in-car and on pit road. I normally race NASCAR cars on iRacing so the Indy car is a bit daunting with its many adjustable parameters.
Being a person with a real life, practice time was hard to come by. This was an open setup race, so you really could not just show up race day and expect to be competitive. iRacing did give you a fairly decent setup to start with, but it was far from what the top drivers were running. Each day the week preceding the event, I would spend about an hour or two practicing race setups. One tick of sporing here, 1.5 psi of tire pressure there, was the difference between being slow, fast, or hitting the wall. Once I created a race setup I liked I would then experiment with qualifying.
Qualifying is always a mixed bag. I am a terrible qualifier, put me up against the clock and it never ends well. My approach to qualifying was on the first round I would just take the race set and duct tape everything shut, put the extra boost in and hold on. That resulted in a less then stellar, but not all that bad qualifying effort. A combination of not having enough time and not really caring resulted in a solid lower tier entry.
Everything leading up to this race was planned for (or at least I thought it was). How much fuel I would need? What the in-car adjustments did? How much wing could I add or take out before it became an issue? However, all of that is merely imagination until the race starts.
Coming to the grid the magnitude of the race sweeps over your brain like the flyover. This is it, the spectacle of the year, what you have been practicing for, what you have been looking forward to all month... Better not crash...
I started 27th in the 33 car field. My strategy was to ride in the back, wait for the cars to spread out, and begin picking off competitors 1 by 1. Only problem was, that was everyone else’s strategy. The start was lackluster at best and before too long, we were putting around so slowly, we were nearly 1/2 a lap down after a handful of laps. I knew this could not stand, and I would need to be more aggressive. Thankfully, before my impatience got the better of me, the first accident occurred.
Race strategy comes into play immediately. The two things I discovered during practice was the tear wear and the adjustments I would need to make to the car during a run. Never had I needed to adjust so many things in the car while driving. About every 10 laps, I would need to add a couple ticks of weight jacker, if turn entry got too bad, I would adjust the roll bar a tick. It doesn’t really matter to tell you what those things do, just know that it made the car drive better. Then I would have to remember to reset them all during a 7 second pit stop or face a meeting with the wall.
Another piece of the puzzle I could not fit properly was my aerodynamic adjustments. I had purposefully removed some downforce from the wings. The plus was that traffic was a breeze while many other washed up the track. The down side was that my single car speed outside of the pack was lower. Throughout the race I kept switching between full and reduced downforce. Unfortunately, this was a 1000 mile question in a 500 mile race. I still don’t really know the answer. I could only adjust based on the current and expected traffic situation.
Regardless of these questions, the race strategy was going smoothly. There really wasn’t a lot of significant things that happened from the 20 to 75% of the race. I steadily picked my way through the pack with some good overtakes and some bad luck of others. 27th moved to 20th, then 17th, then 13th, then 10th. Every so slowly I made my way to 8th place.
30 laps to go running in 5th place, somehow, was the defining moment. I knew the car would not make it on gas, and I was not as good as the 4 cars in front of me. It was going to take a bold strategy to try to win this race. Let’s see if it pays off. At 24 laps to go, I surrender 5th place to pit for the last shot of fuel and tires. I hoped that the speed I would carry with less fuel plus some hopeful blunders by the cars in front would result in a win. My move to the pits was the catalyst that sent others in. The time made up on fresh tires was so great that if people had stayed out longer, they would lose significant time. I needed a quick yellow to seal the strategy.
Unfortunately, that yellow never came. However, the Team Oppo Indy car crossed the line 4th in the Indianapolis 500. This makes it my 4th Top 10 in my 4 attempts at the race (2014: 8th, 2015: 1st, 2017: 5th, 2018: 4th). I can’t say I am displeased. It was a very good, well planned, and executed race. Not perfect, but not a bad day at all. I do wish I had made my way to the front earlier. I feel like I could have competed well in the front of the pack, and I could have focused my pit adjustments to racing with them versus navigating through the remaining traffic. However, I know that if I tried to get to the front too aggressively, I probably would have been in the catch fence.
As always the iRacing Indy 500 is a great experience and if you haven’t had the chance to compete, I suggest you give it a shot. Next year, we will try again for the Borg Warner.